I have been saddened by the rioting in the last week, which started in London and has spread throughout the UK. Have been thinking a lot about causes, possible solutions and what leads some people to break the law while there are others who may be in similar circumstances but would never consider it.
What do we know about criminal behaviour??? We know what a lot of the risk factors are. Poverty and inequality, surely. Perceived lack of opportunities. Real lack of opportunities due to low literacy and/or numeracy. Lack of role models.
But we've known about the risk factors for years. Why aren't we doing anything about them??? And what was different this time???
The coalition government recently cut EMA (Educational Maintenance Allowance), which had allowed 15 GBP weekly for transportation costs for young people in education. There is no doubt this did create significant hardship for some. Was this a major factor in looting??? I doubt it.
Most of the young people I work with are struggling to survive economically, and most come from families that can't provide much if any financial support. As in the US, people rely on a combination of benefits, off the books work, support from friends and relatives (i.e. child support - - not so much formalised as much as buying a box of nappies here and there - - shared housing, sharing of other costs), and, sometimes, the underground economy of selling drugs, the black market, etc.
Why do people cross the line from "I would never steal" to "Stealing is OK?"
For a 16YO looter interviewed by the BBC, it was about getting items that he could resell for up to 2K. This would help him support his child. Why did he have a child at 16??? Many young people believe that if they have a baby, they can get council housing. This is not as true as it used to be, but it does still happen for some. Birth control is more available to teens than it is in the US, but the perception of housing available for young families is a powerful disincentive.
Why do people feel so disenfranchised in the first place???
Many people seem to believe that it doesn't matter what they do, that the cards are stacked against them, things will never get better. There is resentment of the Indian family who own the corner store, without understanding that this family works very long hours, and of how long they had to wait and save to even be able to own a store. And maybe some jealousy of the prosocial qualities of immigrant families, which their own families may lack.
Life is getting harder in the developed world for everybody. Well, almost everybody. Those at the very top do very well, but the rest of us are coping with diminished expectations to one degree or another. As it becomes harder for the middle classes, the poorer classes have even fewer resources.
As a proud progressive, I have long believed that more government spending will do the most good to correct social injustice. The more time I spend on the ground, though, the more I see there is no answer on the right or the left that is complete. Would more social programs help??? Yes, but so would better parenting. Do we need more workplace opportunities??? Yes, but we also need more personal responsibility.
We can continue to build more prisons, but it's more effective (and less expensive) to intervene earlier. The US and UK both have lacked political will.
Prior to the French Revolution, there was widespread looting and chaos. Could there be a similar uprising today???
With Facebook and Twitter leading the way, maybe.